Posted speed limits are largely irrelevant when there’s snow on the ground. In most states, you can be cited for far lower than the posted speed limit if you are violating the “basic rule” – don’t exceed the speed necessary to travel safely in challenging winter conditions.
Accelerate slowly enough to maintain traction and then leave yourself plenty of space to slow down at traffic lights, especially on ice. Remember that bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways do. The bottom line: Give yourself enough time to go slow.
Most vehicles now have anti-lock brakes. In an emergency, you just need to press the brake pedal as hard as you can and let the vehicle do the work of slowing the car. The pedal will vibrate as each individual brake is pulsed, providing enough traction and stability to help you maneuver around obstacles.
Since a vehicle reacts more slowly in snow, you should keep a longer following distance than you normally would. Instead of three to four seconds, stay eight to 10 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. Stopping on ice requires at least twice the distance you need when it’s above freezing.
Many motorists think that their all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicles are unstoppable during winter driving. Truth is, while four-wheel traction systems can help you get going in snow and ice, plus provide extra control when turning, they won’t help you stop much faster than a front or rear wheel-drive car when you hit that patch of black ice.
AAA notes that there’s a difference in the amount of inertia required to start moving from a full stop compared with how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. The organization recommends slowing down well before a traffic signal so that you can keep rolling until the light changes.
Similarly, AAA warns not to power up hills because “applying extra gas on snow-covered just starts your wheels spinning.” Make sure that you have enough – but not too much – momentum before reaching the hill, and start reducing the power as you reach the crest.
If you must drive in hazardous weather conditions, be prepared. Make sure your gas tank is at least half full in case you are stranded far from a gas station or need the extra fuel to keep your car heated. It doesn’t hurt to have a supply kit with non-perishable food, water, blankets, gloves, reflective tape, and an extra cell phone charger. In a worst-case scenario, you could use floor mats or newspapers to stay warm. If you’re heading into more severe conditions, store a shovel in the car.